Challenge: Transforming a contraceptive vaccine for seals into a cure for ovarian cancer
Solution: Taking growth and development one significant step at a time
In the 1980s, an expanding seal population threatened the East Coast fishery. Researchers at Dalhousie University developed a contraceptive vaccine to help balance the ecosystem. Out of that innovation grew IMV Inc., and a potential cure for many cancers.
“We are now one of the most advanced companies in the world working on immunotherapy,” says the Halifax-based company’s CEO Fred Ors.
For Fred and the other 45 employees in the IMV team, the key to fighting cancer lies not in looking outward, but inward. “Our work is based on using our own immune system to cure cancer,” Fred notes.
That work is having a huge impact in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. Most recently, the Nova Scotia biotech company, founded 18 years ago as Immunovaccine Technologies Inc., presented positive findings from its research into ovarian cancer at the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual conference. “Ovarian cancer represents one of the highest unmet medical needs in today’s cancer treatment landscape, and we are committed to advancing this program as quickly and safely as possible,” Fred says.
The success of the clinical trials is mirrored in the success of the company, which has grown from 15 employees to more than 40 in only two years. But IMV did more than hire additional help, stresses Fred, it created a team. “We are a community of people working together.”
Creating such a team can be a challenge for any business. Financing can also be problematic, especially in a highly competitive field like biotechnology. “Biotech is one of the top areas for investors – the return can be significant. But you need to find investors who understand it will take five to ten years for the product to get to market,” says Fred.
Since June 2017 IMV has done a great job of showing private investors why they should come on board—raising over $24 million in a public share offering.
However, IMV’s CEO also points out that for biotech companies the foundation of success embodies more than the bottom line. “The business of medicine is about helping people. We need to remember that at all times.”
Fred also offers this advice to new and growing companies: take things one step at a time. “It’s like climbing a staircase. Every step is different.”
The next step for IMV, he adds, is proving the company has a viable product, then taking that product to market to maximize value for partners and shareholders—and ultimately for cancer patients and their families around the world.
Accessing financial capital is something the Government of Canada recognizes as critical to building, growing and scaling a business. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government has invested just under $11 million to assist IMV in critical research, marketing and development leading to the commercialization of their immunotherapies.
IMV is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.
Do you have a business concept? Do you have an innovative idea to improve or grow your business? For more information on programs and services available to businesses in Atlantic Canada call 1-800-561-7862 or go to canada.ca/acoa.